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Legal implications of Aragalaya protests



By Dharshan Weerasekera

The ‘Aragalaya protests,’ by which I mean the protests that started in mid-March and culminated in the storming of the President’s House, and the Presidential Secretariat on 09 July, leading to the subsequent resignation of the President, have been praised by many commentators as a triumph of democracy, and a resounding affirmation of the rights of the people. However, there is another perspective that one must consider at least for the sake of argument, namely, that the events in question demonstrate the supplanting of the rule of law, in our country by the rule of the mob.

There is very little discussion of this second perspective in local academic journals and newspapers, and it is in the public interest to start one. I argue that the protests are illegal because they contravene the letter and spirit of the Constitution, embodied in Articles 3 and 4 thereof, which I will explain more fully. I argue further that some fans of the protests are using a version of the ‘social contract theory,’ associated chiefly with the seminal thinkers Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Rousseau, to defend them.

It is vital that both the above matters be brought to the attention of the public because there is a danger that if they go unchallenged, they might creep into formal academic discourse and perhaps even into judicial rulings in the future, with devastating consequences. In this article, I shall briefly explain: a) why the ‘Aragalaya’ protests are illegal and, b) why the application of social contract theory to the protests is fallacious.

The constitutional argument

Arguably, the most important clauses in the Sri Lankan Constitution are Articles 3 and 4. Article 3 states: “In the Republic of Sri Lanka sovereignty is in the People and inalienable.” So, it identifies the ultimate basis of the Constitution’s authority and by extension its validity. Meanwhile, Article 4 enumerates the specific ways in which the people are to exercise their sovereignty, for instance, legislative power through a Parliament comprising of elected representatives, executive power through a President elected by the people, the franchise directly by the people and so on.

The necessary implication of an enumeration such as the above is that if the people wish to exercise their sovereignty, including changing the government, they must do so through the specific means spelled out in Article 4. The Constitution does not recognize any other ways through which the people may exercise their sovereignty, for instance, through popular uprisings and other such means. Nor does it reserve to the people the right to invent such means. To suppose otherwise would be to hold that the Constitution, the ‘Supreme Law of the Land,’ is supreme only when it is convenient for people to consider it so.

The above argument is strengthened when one considers what might be the possible obligations of the citizens towards the state. It is well-known that “rights always go hand in hand with responsibilities.” Sri Lanka is by and large a welfare state and almost the entire gamut of essential services is heavily if not entirely subsidized by the state. We have free healthcare, free education, farm subsidies and so on. The state is also the largest employer. Without a doubt, the persons who participated in the protests, if they were citizens of Sri Lanka, would have benefited to some degree or other from these services in the course of their lives.

In these circumstances, the question is whether at a time as the state was in financial difficulties at least partly as a result of factors beyond its control such as the costs of facing a pandemic and also the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks that crippled tourism, one of the pillars of the economy, it would have been more reasonable for the protesters to exercise some patience, instead of taking to the streets immediately, and calling for the ouster of the government?

To digress a moment, there is an extraordinary passage in Plato’s ‘Crito’ that speaks to the above question and it is worthwhile quoting it at length. The background to the passage is as follows: The Athenian Assembly had sentenced Socrates to death for allegedly “corrupting the youth” with his philosophizing. He was in jail awaiting execution. A group of his friends, led by Crito, arrange an escape for him and Crito visits the prison to tell him about the plan.

But Socrates refuses the offer. The essence of his argument is that as an Athenian citizen he had benefitted from the state throughout his life. Now, when the state had punished him, it would be wrong for him to turn his back on the state, even though the punishment might be unjust. He says,

“Imagine that I am about to play truant, and the laws and the government come and interrogate me: “Tell us, Socrates:, they say, “what are you about?” Are you not going by an act of yours to overturn us—the laws, and the whole state, as far as in you lies? Do you imagine that a state can subsist and not be overthrown, in which the decisions of law have no power, but are set aside and trampled upon by individuals?” He goes on…

“Then, the laws will say, “Consider, Socrates, if we are speaking truly that in your present attempt you are going to do us an injury. For, having brought you into the world, and nurtured and educated you, and given you and every other citizen a share in every good we had to give, we further proclaim to any Athenian by the liberty which we allow him, that if he does not like us when he has become of age and has seen the ways of the city, and made our acquaintance, he may go where he pleases and take his goods with him. None of us laws will forbid him or interfere with him. Anyone who does not like us and the city, and who wants to emigrate to a colony or to any other city, may go where he likes, retaining his property.” (‘Crito’, Complete Dialogues of Plato, (trans. Benjamin Jowett) London, 1952, p. 217)

At the time of the protests, all of the means provided by the Constitution for changing the government were available to the citizens of this country. Now, a critic might say that it would have taken too long to exercise those means, for instance, if people were to wait for two years, until the next elections, the country would have been ruined. But then, the means to change the times for elections were also available. To my knowledge, the government had made no attempt to suspend the Constitution or any part thereof.

Also, Socrates’ point, although made in a different context, is highly relevant here. If any citizen was dissatisfied with the prevailing situation, they had the option of leaving. In these circumstances, was it lawful for the protesters to storm the President’s House and Secretariat and forcibly evict the President, from those premises, and, shortly afterwards, the country, leading to his subsequent resignation? In my opinion, the conclusion is inescapable that the said act is illegal.

Social Contract Theory as a defence for the protests

A perusal of commentary on the protests shows that many writers rely on a version of the “social contract theory” to defend them. In my view, their stance is untenable because of the following reasons. “Social contract theory,” is chiefly associated with Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), John Locke (1632-1704) and Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). As far as I am aware, the idea behind the theory is that at the very inception of a state, the people enter into a contract with their rulers whereby the former surrender a portion of their sovereignty to the rulers in exchange for the rulers ensuring the security and welfare of the people.

If the rulers fail to fulfill their end of the deal, the people would be justified in ousting them. Locke famously says in “An Essay Concerning Civil Government”: “Whenever law ends, tyranny begins. If the law be transgressed to another’s harm; and whosoever in authority exceeds the power given him by the law, and makes use of the force he has under his command to compass that upon the subject which the law allows not, ceases in that to be a magistrate, and acting without authority may be opposed, as any other man who by force invades the rights of another.” (‘An Essay Concerning Civil Government’, p. 71)

As mentioned earlier, some commentators try to defend the protests by resort to a version of the above argument. According to them, the former President exceeded his authority or in some other way reneged on his obligations to the people and hence the people had a right to oust him. However, leaving aside the question whether such a dereliction of duty in fact happened, Locke’s argument can be distinguished from the Sri Lankan situation very clearly.

Locke, Hobbes and Rousseau were responding to the fundamental transformations that were taking in the political systems of their respective countries. In the case of Hobbes and Locke, it was to the transition from a monarchy to a constitutional monarchy that was taking place in England over the course of the 17th century and in the case of Rousseau it was to the transition from a monarchy to a Republic symbolized by the French Revolution.

Each thinker, in his own way, was trying to find a way to legitimize the emerging political order. In order to do this, they introduced the notion that the ultimate authority in the state comes from the people, as opposed to the monarch who at the time was understood as deriving his authority from God. In sum, social contract theory applies to situations where new political systems are being formed, not to convulsions in such systems once theyare formed. For instance, if people can topple the government at will, what is the point of having elections?

Democracy is understood as rule by the consent of the people. If one accepts that the way in which this consent is expressed is though elections, then changing governments, other than through constitutionally prescribed methods, createsthe potential for perpetual instability in the state and thereby negates the very purpose for which the social contract is purportedly formed, namely, ensuring the security and well-being of the people.


Sri Lankans must decide whether they want to live in a country where the rule of law prevails or, ultimately, the rule of the mob. If the former, they need to reflect deeply about what happened in the course of the protests and devise constitutional means to prevent such things from repeating.

(The writer is an Attorney-at-Law)

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Teaching feminism at SL universities



A women’s right protest. (File Photo)

“Feminism is not a synonym for man hater though we need a new man now”:

By Aruni Samarakoon

Recently, I was in a discussion on Feminism with the members of the Post-Graduate Research (PGR) community at the University of Hull, in the United Kingdom. They were my colleagues, from the Middle-East, Asia and Europe, representing the natural and social sciences, but, apparently, did not possess any prior knowledge on feminism. I say this because most in the natural sciences seemed to characterise feminism as a political ideology against man (man in this context represents male). This discussion provoked me to recollect why feminism was stereotyped by these scholars, who were researching for their doctoral degrees at the time.

The objective of this article is to extend my argument of teaching feminism at the Sri Lankan universities in my last Kuppi column (25/10/2022), which drew attention to the gaps in teaching and learning feminism in the classroom and practicing it in everyday life.

I introduced the basic notion of feminism in my last Kuppi column, but would like to extend the conceptual understanding of feminism in a new direction, that is the notion that feminism is not an anti-man discourse. bell hooks—lowercase letters symbolise, for hooks, resistance to injustice and prejudice in the capitalist system or a “new language” of equality and justice for all—in Feminism for Everybody: Passionate Politics (2000) states, “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression… and it was my hope at the time that it would become a common definition everyone would use. I liked this definition because it did not imply that men were the enemy ” (p.01). hooks’ proposition was further reinforced by socialist feminist Sheila Rowbotham in her book, Women, Resistance and Revolution (1972). Rowbotham suggests that feminism is a new political project to empower both men and women and create a new man and woman. Notably, hooks and Rowbotham did not agree with ‘binary politics’ that constructs man as “enemy” and woman as “victim”.

Who is the “New Man”?

The political notion of the “New Man” was developed by Rowbotham. She critically examined women’s representation in post-French revolution politics and asked how the latter “represents the voice of women in the French Revolution”? She suggested that women moved once again into the second sex (subordinate role) paradigm at the end of the French Revolution as revolutionary politics turned into patriarchal politics. Therefore, she suggested the concept of “New Man,” a man who recognizes class and sex oppression as the primary determinants of exploitation. The “New Man” understands the equal significance of ending classism and sexism at once. I draw on hooks and Rowbotham to propose that a “new man” is a necessary condition for teaching and learning feminism at Sri Lankan universities.

The question is whether you see the “New Man” in any context in Sri Lanka? Let’s start with the recent peaceful uprising of “Gota- Go-Home-2022”. Revolutionary political agents of both male and female sex were visible at the beginning of the uprising. For example, the image of a woman carrying a child in one hand and a placard in the other went viral on social media. The female undergraduates were on the front lines of the protests, holding the banners and shouting the slogans. The activities of women in this scenario took me back to the French Revolution;

“The idea of a march of women to Versailles to stop the bloodshed spread in April 1871. Beatrice Excoffon, the daughter of a watchmaker who lived with a compositor, told her mother she was leaving, kissed her children and joined the procession at the Place de la Concorde. Nobody was clear about the aims of the march or knew definitely what they should do, but there were political rather than strictly economic motives” (Rowbotham, 1972, p.104).

The women who came to the streets in the Sri Lankan uprising had both political and economic motives. They were not certain about the plan, though their voice was to end the “dictatorship” and restore “democracy”. The fundamental question is where are these women now? How many of these women were in the political party negotiation table at the end of the uprising? How many were able to voice their political motives? I argue that these revolutionary women were thrown to their private spaces by the “Old-Man”- the agent of patriarchal politics. The irony is that the “Old-Man” was preoccupied in ending the dictatorship in parliament, while maintaining sexist dictatorship in their revolutionary political bodies. Thus the “New Man” is a necessary condition to practice feminism as political ideology for everybody.

“New Woman”

The aims of feminist academic discourse and activism were/are to raise women’s political consciousness and empower them to be the “New Woman”. The scholarship of hooks and Rowbotham interpret the “New Woman” as one who opposes patriarchal politics. The “New Woman” can be found today in every sector; these women are in a hard struggle to establish the “Woman’s identity” in those settings. For example, the underlying impetus driving the ongoing Iranian protest is to recognize Women’s identity as a human being. Tearing off their hair cover was a symbolic representation of their voice to get identified as human, in my interpretation. However, creating the “New Woman” is a contested and difficult political process. What is the role of teaching and learning feminism at universities in creating the “New Man” and “New Woman”?

“Learning outcomes” of Feminism

A key “learning outcome” of Feminist pedagogy would be to critically examine a given social reality. The given social reality contains the stereotypes, power hierarchies and objectification of the human body. Feminism then, will throw light on this social reality and raise the critical mindset of both woman and man to question that given social reality.

Feminism, in that case, plays the role of activism for social transformation. The focus of old school pedagogy was examining theory; activism was not a part of older pedagogical approaches. It was feminism that introduced activism as a new method of teaching and learning Amy K Levin states in Questions for a New Century: Women’s Studies and Integrative Learning (2007) that, “feminist studies programmes work to meet knowledge and skills goals and activism is the requirement of the course” (p.18). Connecting knowledge and personal experience is a part of feminist activism.

However, in the context of Sri Lankan universities, activism is yet to be recognized as a legitimate pedagogical activity. In my experience, the most university academics in Sri Lanka maintain a hierarchy of academia and activism. They tend to present the theoretical arguments of other prominent scholars in academic language, rarely understood by the public. In activism, the theoretical explanations are discussed in simple language and examples of everyday life are connected to theory, to engage the public.

In conclusion, the point of feminism is not an anti-man thesis, but to create the “New Man and Woman” . The “New Man ” concept in Sri Lanka can and must be improved and expanded by teaching feminism at higher education institutions. Training undergraduates in activism is necessary for social transformation, which should be the ultimate objective of education. It is worth noting that the Kuppi collective has taken the lead in discussing new approaches to education; feminism is part of that discussion.

(Aruni Samarakoon teaches at the Department of Public Policy, University of Ruhuna)

Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies

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Indian model as wayforward



President Wickremesinghe

By Jehan Perera

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s statement that district committees can be considered as part of the solution to the vexed problem of power sharing between the ethnic communities has caused a considerable furore in the Tamil community.  It came as both a shock and a disappointment as the president has also been speaking about fast-tracking the national reconciliation process. The president said he is ready to reintroduce District Development Councils when former president Maithripala Sirisena proposed setting up of district councils under the provincial councils as a cost cutting measure.  “Former President, I listened to your comments on District Development Councils and I am ready to do it,” the President is quoted as having said. Subsequently, the president’s media unit clarified that the President meant that the District Development Committees (DDCs) will be established within the Provincial Councils.

The president’s media unit further elaborated that the DDCs would provide a platform for coordination between the government, the provincial councils and the local governments for all executive decisions. It also said this will ensure the process is not duplicated and will reduce financial wastage.  The concept of the district as the unit of devolution was tried before in 1981 by the president’s uncle, the late president J R Jayewardene during whose period the government established DDCs to be part of the solution to the ethnic conflict that was getting worse by the day.  The Sri Lankan security forces had been ordered to control the growing Tamil militancy.  The security forces were armed not only with guns but also with the Prevention of Terrorism Act which was abused then as it is abused today though to a much greater extent then, than it is now.

The memory of the brief period of the DDCs is an unhappy one to the Tamil community.  The elections to the DDC were contested by the ruling party, the UNP, to which the president belongs.  The government’s attempt to rig those elections and win them at any cost led to the catastrophic burning of the Jaffna Public Library in 1981.  This seat of learning was one of the most sacrosanct institutions of Tamil civilisation that symbolised the high quality of education in the north of the country that was the envy of other parts of the country.  It is therefore not surprising that the president’s media unit was quick to deny the very negative inferences made with regard to the president’s speech.


The president’s media unit can be relied upon to accurately portray the president’s cryptic remark with regard to his willingness to resuscitate the district council system.  However, the very idea of creating a complex platform for coordinating the central government, provincial councils and local government bodies for all executive decisions seems to be a difficult task.  It runs the real risk of killing any possibility of decision making through a multiplicity of committees.  Coordination within one level of the government is difficult enough.  Coordinating between multiple levels will be even more difficult.  There have been issues when two drivers sit at the wheel. Who does the Government Agent in a district report to as he also serves as the District Secretary? What is the protocol when a central deputy minister and provincial minister attend a formal meeting?

The questions noted above have been raised in the past and many remain unresolved and making further units of devolution will be confusion compounded. The irrelevance of the proposed district committees to the solution of the ethnic conflict can be seen by another problem.  The provincial councils, which were formulated to be the solution to the ethnic conflict, and to represent the wishes of the people of each province, do nothing of the sort at the present time, as they are non-functional where people’s representation is concerned.  For the past four years, the provincial councils have only been administrative bodies run by a presidentially appointed governor who can act, and does act arbitrarily, without consulting the people of the province.  During this period, elections to the provincial councils have not been held.  Far from being institutions of devolved power, the provincial councils now represent the centralised power of the state, both unfortunately and perniciously.

The ability of the government to neutralise the provincial councils by the undemocratic method of not permitting elections to be held for 4 years gives impetus to the Tamil community’s rejection of them.  The provincial councils were brought into existence in 1987 as the main democratic part of the solution to the ethnic conflict. They were meant to provide the people of each province with the power to decide on locally relevant matters.  But this right has been denied to them.  This would be the main reason why the demand for federalism is once again coming to the fore. In a landmark judgement the Supreme Court in August 2017 with Chief Justice Priyasath Dep presiding ruled that “Advocating for a Federal form of Government within the existing State could not be considered as advocating Separatism.” The court dismissed a petition that ITAK (or Federal Party) had, as one of its “aims” and “objects” the establishment of a Separate State.


The TNA which is the largest Tamil party (with ITAK as its major component) has responded positively to the president’s announcement that he intends to seek a solution to the ethnic conflict by the 75th anniversary of Independence.  They have said that they will seek a solution on the basis of federalism.  Their spokesperson M. A. Sumanthiran has pointed out that there are more than 25 countries in the world which have federal system and they are very much united, and contain over 40 percent of the world’s population.  The United States, India, Switzerland and Malaysia are examples of federal states.  The key feature in a federal state is that the government will not be able to change the way a provincial council is governed.  Certainly, the government will not be able to arbitrarily postpone elections to a provincial council for four years and then run it centrally through a governor of its own choice.

On the other hand, from the time that the Tamil polity has asked for federalism, beginning in the 1950s, the Sinhalese polity has rejected it as being injurious to the country’s national sovereignty and security.  There is misapprehension that federalism might be the first step to secession. The examples of the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia are given as examples of federal states that broke up on the lines of their federal units.  The Sinhalese position is that a unitary form of government would protect the country from being divided in this manner.  However, even unitary states have been divided if they did not manage their ethnic relations in a constructive manner as was the case in Sudan (which divided into South Sudan) and Serbia (Kosovo). The enlightened reasoning and decision of the Sri Lankan Supreme Court in 2017 needs to be explained to the political parties and to the general population.

The 18th century English poet Alexander Pope wrote “For Forms of Government let fools contest whatever is best administered is best.”  Just across the seas from Sri Lanka the world has a good example of a diverse and huge country that has held together as one and is now getting stronger and stronger, both in terms of its economic might, but also its international stature.  The Indian form of government is neither wholly federal nor wholly unitary, but can take on aspects of either as the situation demands.  In times of peace it is federal, in times of stress it can become unitary.  This was the solution that India and Sri Lanka agreed to in the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 and which was distorted in the 13th Amendment.  Recently in parliament, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa went one step forward to say he was for discussions on 13th Amendment plus. India has been Sri Lanka’s best saviour at the present time in terms of the economic crisis, giving Sri Lanka far more than other countries.  With India’s political support to a political solution based on its own learning and experience, a viable solution can be found and Sri Lanka can forge ahead as a truly united nation to economic development.

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Top acts heading overseas…for 31st night



Sohan & The X-Periments, and the new-look Mirage outfit, will not be around to usher in the New Year – 2023.

While The X-Periments will take a break, from 31st night activities, their leader Sohan will be away, in the UK, making sure that the folks, over there, have a ball, as the New Year approaches…and after!

He will be at the Honeymoon Banquet Hall, in Hounslow, London, together with the band Roots, and guest artiste Damin David – UK Lankan’s Voice Winner – to welcome 2023.

This dinner dance will commence at 7.00 pm and wind up at 1.00 am, and will be held in typical Sri Lankan style, with kiribath, tea, coffee, after the countdown.

Among the highlights will be the selection of the New Year Queen.

This will be Sohan’s third trip to the UK, for this year, and it did come as a surprise, he says, adding that he is glad that he is in demand in the UK, as well.

Sohan will also take wing for Australia, to perform at a very important event – a concert to honour the late Desmond de Silva.

It will be held on 11th, February, 2023, in New South Wales, and will also feature Mignonne and Suraj, Melantha Perera, Mariazelle, Corrine, and Sohan Pieris, among others.

Honouring the legend…Desmond de Silva

This concert will showcase the music from Desmond’s incredible musical journey…with the Spitfires, Jetliners, Foreign Affair (UK), Replay 6, Desmond and The Impressions, and the baila king himself, in ‘hologram.’

In the meanwhile, the new-look Mirage, who captivated a full house at the Peacock, Berjaya Hotel, Mount Lavinia, last Friday night – December 2nd – is scheduled to head for Oman for two important seasonal gigs – on 23rd December and 31st December.

On Friday, the 23rd, they will be at the Grand Hall, Al Falaj Hotel, in Muscat, for ‘Sri Lankan Musical Night’ – from 3.00 pm onwards.

In addition to their Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve gigs, the General Manager of the Al Falaj Hotel, Praveen George, indicated to me that Mirage will also be seen in action at a few more events, in Oman.

Down Under, too, elaborate plans are being made to celebrate the dawning of another New Year.

Two popular bands, in Melbourne, Replay 6 and Ebony, will be at the Grand On Princess, to provide the right kind of music to make this New Year’s Dinner Dance nostalgic.

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